The Malta Under-19 team national team ended their commitments in the UEFA Under-19 Championship qualifying round with a 2-2 draw with Kosovo at the Centenary Stadium on Tuesday.
It was a deserved point for Malta, who dominated the first half hour of this encounter and large parts of the second half. This result was enough for the Kosovars to qualify to the elite round of this competition, for the very first time in their history in this age category.
Photo courtesy of www.stephengatt.com
When compared to the Slovakia outing last Saturday, Malta National Under-19 team coach Paul Gatt changed his starting formation on not less than six positions, with Valletta wing back Kelvin Baldacchino making his tournament debut. With Ethan Debono and Basil Tuma up front, Gatt started with two fresh forwards, leaving Varzim based Sean Gatt initially on the bench, entering as a half-time substitute. Isaiah Chukunyere and Matthias Fenech were the newcomers on midfield while on the left wing, Kaiden Fenech was awarded with a place in the starting line-up as well.
Opponent Kosovo started with just three Kosovo based player in their starting eleven, with most of the squad playing their trade in Germany and Switzerland with renowned clubs as VfB Stuggart, Schalke ’04, Grasshoppers Zurich and Werder Bremen.
After already producing two splendid attacks in the opening phase, Malta took the lead after just six minutes play with Matthias Fenech capitalizing on a Kosovo defensive error when Leon Zeqiraj’s back pass was too short for goalkeeper Art Miftari, with Fenech on hand to score. Four minutes later on the other side, Malta goalkeeper Luca Camilleri performed a great save on an Edion Gashi grounder, who remarkably was given a lot of space to pull the trigger inside the area. Camilleri was called back into action again on 35 minutes, tipping a direct on target free-kick of Igball Jashari into a corner.
Towards half-time however, Kosovo turned the match around in their favour. They were awarded a penalty on 39 minutes when Myron Micallef allegedly brought down Elvir Gashijan in the box, with Eliot Bujupi converting from the spot. Three minutes later, the visitors took the lead through an angled shot from the edge of the area by Dior Gerbovici, punishing some hesitation in the Malta defence.
Malta played an excellent second period, pushing the Kosovars back into their own half for most of the time. The first goalscoring opportunity after the break was for Malta when Matthias Fenech’s volley on 49 minutes just missed target from the edge of the box. Not much later, a Kaiden Fenech scorcher was saved with difficulty by Miftari, two splendid chances which showed the hosts’ attacking intentions. Both Tuma and Gatt kept the Kosovar rear-guard on their toes with darting runs, creating havoc on several occasions.
On 82 minutes, Tuma was fouled in the box by Alpi Shihani with the referee in charge pointing at the spot. Captain Lucas Caruana made no mistake from 11-meters, sending Miftari calmly the wrong way. One minute later on the other side, Bujupi could have immediately restored Kosovo’s lead but missed a free chance with his effort rolling teasingly over the line.
Earlier on Tuesday, Ukraine played their best match of the tournament by beating Slovakia 4-0, with the Ukrainians already being three up at half-time. This means that Ukraine won the group with six points, before Kosovo with five points, Slovakia four and Malta one. Ukraine and Kosovo therefore qualified to the elite round, to be played in March and April next year.
Malta Luca Camilleri, Kelvin Baldachino, Sven Xerri, Myron Micallef (Ivin Farrugia 70), Isaiah Chukunyere (Kian Vella 70), Mattias Fenech, Matthew Fenech, Lucas Caruana, Zak Barbara (Trezeguet Zammit 83), Ethan Debono (Sean Gatt 46), Basil Tuma (Kian Leonardi 83).
Kosovo Art Miftari, Dren Dobruna, Leon Zeqiraj, Alpi Shahini, Erion Salihu (Leonit Ibrahimi 70), Dior Gerbovci (Lorent Talla 63), Elvir Gashijan (Ajazaj Engjelli 70), Diamant Lokaj, Edion Gashi (Elmedin Rama 70), Igball Jashari (Fanol Lutolli 63), Eliot Bujupi.
Referee Vassilis Fotias (Greece)